The Fosters (S4E01): “Potential Energy”


Timely. Heartbreaking. Relevant. The Fosters premiere was a piece of television so important, so visceral and so devastating, shining a light on the terrible nature of school lock-downs. In the wake of the Orlando shooting, The Fosters included a short tribute to those lost, by reminding us all that love will always conquer hate. But also, bringing with it the reality that the episode of television we were about to watch, was much more than just television. That it was, and is, real life. Situations like these happen, all of the time. That gun control is a problem. Television has become one of the most powerful mediums in society today, and what The Fosters creative team continues to do, is give social issues such as these a voice. A voice so loud that no one can ignore it. The voice is committed, determined and unwavering in its fight for change. The premiere, titled “Potential Energy”, opens exactly where we left off last season. Nick (Louis Hunter) is seen sitting in his car, eyeing the hand gun he has in the glovebox, grappling with insular feelings written through his eyes. After a few silent moments, he places the gun in his backpack, hops out of his car and makes his way into the school. The audience is already on the edge of their seats as we wait to see just what his plan is.

Elsewhere, Callie (Maia Mitchell), Stef (Teri Polo) and Lena (Sherri Saum) are continuing their discussion, however it has hit a new level of awkwardness upon the back of Callie’s admission about her and Brandon. We all predicted Stef wouldn’t be happy, and we were right; she doesn’t say much, but in all truth she doesn’t have too. Teri Polo is endlessly emotive through her physicality and the audience is very well aware that Stef is barely holding her anger in. Luckily, Lena balances it all out, remaining stoic and calm while I’m sure inside her stomach is turning. Callie continues to explain the situation, coming clean about the entire Carmen situation and Rita (Rosie O’Donnell) knowing, which doesn’t necessarily go over very well either. Make note of the long silence, whether this was scripted or not, it is the first of many instances where silence is used in a way to create tension, in the most haunting of ways. Meanwhile, we cut to a classroom where the students (Mat specifically) are answering questions about types of energy, when a tormented looking Nick sits down. The death stare he shoots Mat is enough to give us goose bumps.

Checking in with the other members of the Adams Foster family, Jude (Hayden Byerly) overhears Daria and Taylor talking about the fact “he’s gay” and that Taylor should be careful about getting into anything serious. Jesus (Noah Centineo) and Emma (Amanda Leighton) run into each other at the lockers; Emma seems upset, and Jesus does his best to make her feel better. The news that he is no longer “with” Lexi seems to make Emma happy, so much so that she asks whether he wants to have sex. He definitely looks interested. And when later, he is seen asking Nick for a favour, we definitely know what Jesus is up to. Nick, however, seems distant and sad, telling Jesus how good a friend he has been (Noah Centineo is subtle in this scene, illustrating Jesus’ knowing so elegantly). Meanwhile, we first see Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) this week when Mat approaches her about Nick seeming “off” in class. After hearing this, she attempts – again – to contact Nick who has been avoiding her at all costs. This time however, he responds, admitting to having witnessed the kiss between her and Mat, and this time he agrees to meet at the “spot” to talk it out.

Since she ignored a text from Mike (Danny Nucci) earlier, Stef is alarmed to see him burst into Lena’s office. Informing them of the fire at the warehouse, and asking whether Nick is at school today, it seems as though the situation has just become a little more complex. While this information is being forwarded onto Monte, Nick and Mariana come face to face for the first time. His eyes red from crying, hands in his pockets, and face turned downwards – he barely makes eye contact as he circles Mariana. Louis Hunter is incredibly haunting in this scene, and in combination with how Rob Morrow shot it, the audience have their stomachs in their throat as they wait for what’s to come. As he continues to circle, Mariana as oblivious as ever to the gun he has stuffed in the back of his pants, does her best to apologise. She does her best to ensure Nick that the kiss meant nothing. He doesn’t seem to be hearing her though, and as he starts to become more out of control the security guard interrupts them, instructing them to go back to class. However, Mariana goes straight to her Mamas and relays that Nick didn’t seem right. That he was off. With the information about the fire, and then this, the Mamas, Monte and Mike begin discussions.

Nick’s Dad has since arrived, and is upset about the entire situation and demands to know where his son is. Not only that, he threatens to sue the school for using his warehouse without permission. It seems as though Nick hasn’t been telling the whole truth. As they continue to gather more information, for example if Nick had access to weapons, the tension continues to rise. Props to the writers and creative team for such a slow, impactful build bought to a head when they discover that the gun Nick’s dad usually keeps locked away, is missing. Adding to that shock, when Nick’s car suddenly comes into the parking lot Stef and Mike jump into action to prevent anything bad from happening. They quickly learn though that it’s Jesus driving, with Emma in tow and Nick is said to be on the school grounds. With a gun. The code blue alarm sounds – meaning there is someone on the school grounds with a gun – the students file into classrooms, no backpacks, lock the doors and barricade themselves inside. Callie and Brandon get stuck in a junior class with the news of their newly discovered secret, while Jude offers one more “I love you” to Stef before he retreats into the classroom. Mariana however, is too late. She walks through the corridors knocking on doors, begging for them to let her in, but protocol says (as Timothy states) that they aren’t allowed to open the doors for anyone. This may have been one of the most gut-wrenching scenes, as we watch her go door-to-door, alone and vulnerable. Concerned parents start to arrive, and while the entire school continues to remain on lockdown (Lena inside at this point too), Stef is responsible for ensuring that everything is being to get their children out safely.

The protocol for these situations also states that every student needs to be accounted for, names checked off and then sent through to the Principal. Brandon and Callie are stuck in a classroom with a substitute teacher, freaking out more so than the students, therefore the responsibility falls on them to get this done. All class lists are eventually returned to Monte, and as her and Lena look through the names one is missing. It’s Mariana. She hasn’t be marked off. It is instant, a reaction so pure for a mother whose child is in danger, when Lena jumps to attention and makes a move for the door. Mike stands in her way, reminding her that she cannot leave. That it is protocol. She continues to fight, to struggle; Sherri Saum delivers a palpable performance with a genuine helplessness communicated through Lena. With there being nothing she can do, she radios Stef and fills her in. And without any words, Teri Polo illustrates Stef’s anguish with nothing but a look. In the meantime, the SWAT team arrives and is instructed to extract everyone, one classroom at a time. As this is happening, we see Callie and Brandon racing against the clock to treat a diabetic student while Jude is still copping attitude from Daria about his sexuality. Lena radios Stef again, she needs an update, is there any word on Mariana? And with this short exchange, we are reminded just how talented and dynamic Polo and Saum are. Talking through the radio, the women are both in a state of shock, and when an “I love you” is exchanged, our hearts break.

Jude and his classmates are the first to be rescued, exiting to a relieved Stef and a warm embrace. Brandon and Callie, after saving the young girls life, are discussing what’s next when it comes to their not so secret, secret. Brandon is evidently annoyed, angry even, stating that as of now, it’s over. And by that he means them. Meanwhile, the second wave of students and teachers have been escorted out; in this group is Jesus, Emma, Monte and Lena. Jesus is distraught, understandably terrified of what may happen to his sister, while Lena, is heartbroken. Sherri Saum and Teri Polo bought to this episode a visceral, committed tone so true to their standing as mothers. None more so, when Lena is barely able to stand as she asks Stef “why can’t they find her?” and Stef has no answers; the unknowing reality of such a situation makes it all the more confronting. Cut away from this scene, we see a terrified Mariana squatting over a toilet, remaining as quite as possible, all alone. Cierra Ramirez is utterly soul-crushing in this moment, as the fear is written all across her face. As we move back to the crime scene, that is when we hear it. Gun shots. They ring out, and without a second thought, Mama Tiger is off. Stef runs towards the school, not looking back, as Lena screams after her. If there were ever a cast to deliver such an episode, such a real-to-life story as this, it is the Fosters.

We cut to a scene of Brandon and Callie; the substitute teacher is wielding a gun, and has fired it. The students are terrified, chaos ensues and SWAT arrives just in time to resolve the situation. Stef arrives shortly after, but is ushered away by an officer. The scene that follows is together one of devastation, shock, bravery and raw emotion. The family is reunited, Callie and Brandon with Lena, and as they look on Stef emerges with Mariana tightly by her side. No more truer illustration of family has been seen than this right here; Rob Morrow’s vision, his direction, the writing, the post-production creativity, the music. All of it came together to create a scene so emotionally charged, the audience cannot help but be moved. Floored. The family. The embrace. The relief. Each moment so important, so telling and so relevant. After SWAT searches the school, they have no success in finding Nick, he’s nowhere to be found. But we discover soon after, that he is lurking in Mariana’s room, gun still closely tucked in the back of his pants. His peace is interrupted though with doors slamming, The Adams Foster family has arrived home but before they enter the house Stef, still in police officer mode, searches the house. She doesn’t turn up any trace of anyone, the house is clear and the family enters the house. A shot reminiscent of way back when. Unfortunately though, as the episode finishes and the promo for next week plays we find out that Nick still, is very much inside the house. Who’s to know what will transpire next week.  

Toeing the line is no more; shining a light on controversial issues, starting and maintaining conversations so essential to the current social climate. That my friends, is what The Fosters is all about. It is what The Fosters have done for the last three seasons and what they have continued to do with such a gripping, real-to-life premiere episode. It is television like this, painstakingly accurate that is encouraging, fighting and urging change. It is no longer just fiction, but stories that all of us can relate to; pulling back the curtain, bravely and unapologetic on issues that need our attention. Bravo Fosters Family on a truly phenomenal premiere, it was every bit beautiful as it was painful.


Other key points:

  • Showing how each individual faces such traumatic event was incredibly moving – Jude texting Connor, Taylor writing the cross on her hand, Emma nervous laughing.
  • It seems as though Brandon and Callie are in for a “talking to” in regards to their history.